Archive for November 28th, 2022

Out of the Hermit’s Cave

GC Myers- Sacred Solitude sm

Sacred Solitude— Headed to the Principle Gallery

Today the artist has, whether he likes it or not, inherited the combined functions of hermit, pilgrim, prophet, priest, shaman, sorcerer, soothsayer, alchemist, and bonze.

–Thomas Merton, Answers on Art and Freedom, 1985

I am out of the cave today, delivering new work to the Principle Gallery in Alexandria for their upcoming annual Small Works show. The painting at the top, Sacred Solitude, an 8″ by 16″ canvas, is part of this group. 

I say cave because my natural affinity toward living and working as a hermit has become more and more pronounced in recent years and doing anything that requires me leaving my home or studio requires what feels like a Herculean effort. The pandemic and its isolating effects certainly accelerated my retreat into full blown hermithood. It gave me an acceptable excuse for not going anywhere.

But my dad’s death also pushed me in that direction in that I no longer made several visits a week to the nursing facility where he lived the last four years of his life. It meant I no longer came in contact the people there, the staff and residents, and no longer had to accompany him on his doctor visits. The past couple of years without that interaction– limited as it was to small talk, smiles, and greetings– took its toll and I find myself often feeling super awkward in the most basic of conversations, sometimes even with folks I know.

Even though hardly anyone around here wears a mask in public, I still wear mine on those rare occasions when I am dragged out of my cave. I think I do this more for the anonymity and the deterrence from folks engaging with me it provides than for its actual viral protective qualities.

I don’t know if this is good or bad. I am sure it appears unhealthy to some. For me, it is a preference, one that I have been slowly bending towards for much of my adult life. As an artist, it has some significant benefits. A life of semi-isolation leads to a natural sense of introspection which lends itself to creating uniquely personal work.

Now, Merton points out at the top that the artist today takes on the mantle of being a hermit, even if doing so unwittingly. I agree with that because good and meaningful work takes much time spent alone. As for the other functions he indicates for the artist, I am less certain. In my eyes, I am none of those things. I might be able to buy into the alchemist label because there are times when the transformation of paint on a surface into something much more than the sum of its parts is remarkable, indeed.

But those things aside, I totally accept the hermit label. And today, the hermit is out of the cave and on the move. I haven’t left yet and already I am wishing I were back in my hermit’s studio in the woods.

Soon enough…

Oh, and in case you were wondering, the bonze ending Merton’s passage is a Japanese or Chinese Buddhist monk. Again, not me.


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